2018 Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet
By J.J. Hysell, Hello Race Fan's Contributor
2018 Kentucky Derby Replay
So you want to watch the 2018 Kentucky Derby on Saturday but you have no idea who’s running. Not to worry! Here’s a thumbnail of the field in order of post position with morning line odds.
1. Firenze Fire (50-1) – The Florida-bred boasts a solid four-of-nine record, and he beat Good Magic in the Grade 1 Champagne in October. Good Magic turned the tables on him in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and although he’s been in the mix in the New York preps, he’ll need to step up his game quite a bit to beat this group.
2. Free Drop Billy (30-1) – One of two entries for trainer Dale Romans, the promising 2-year-old’s best effort this season was a second behind Audible in the Grade 2 Holy Bull. The flashy colt makes a favorable impression on the track, but a steady regression in the running lines is a negative.
3. Promises Fulfilled (30-1) – The chestnut son of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford resembles his sire not only in appearance, but in running style as well. Just as Shackleford liked to freewheel out front on the lead, this Dale Romans trainee feels most at home there as well. Romans isn’t hiding the fact that the plan for the colt in the Derby is to be on the pace early, possibly on the lead. “We’ll definitely be in front with Promises Fulfilled,” Romans said. “We saw what happened in the Florida Derby when someone tried to go with him. So if they want to try again, be my guest.” The colt’s won three of his five starts wire-to-wire, including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, but trying to replicate wire-to-wire 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem is a tall task. If the plan comes to fruition, he’ll be a key to the race, as the pace could be quite honest, boosting the hopes of closers.
4. Flameaway (30-1) – This well-traveled Ontario-bred won’t likely be fazed by the Derby hullabaloo Saturday as he’s raced nine times and at seven different tracks. A very athletic specimen, he’s turned the heads of onlookers in the mornings during pre-Derby training at Churchill Downs. He’s won from off the pace, but he does his best running on or near the lead, and that could pose a problem as he doesn’t appear to be best suited for this distance. While Promises Fulfilled looks to be the main pace factor, watch out for this colt; he practically bolted through his work on Saturday, so much so that trainer Mark Casse had to radio the rider to slow him down. “We stopped him at about the three-sixteenths pole to slow him down because he was going to work faster than I’ve ever seen him work,” Casse said.
5. Audible (8-1) – SHOW (3rd) – One of the most versatile runners in the race, the Grade 1 Florida Derby winner can be placed pretty much anywhere and still have a shot to win. That’s a major plus in a field of 20. He has handily defeated quality competition, including Derby foes Hofburg and Free Drop Billy. He’s lurked in the shadow of flashier stablemate Magnum Moon but offers more experience, adaptability and maturity. Only detraction could be his pedigree, as he’s by Into Mischief, a sire known more for producing successful sprinters and milers than classic distance runners. Still, he’s one to watch leading up to the race.
6. Good Magic (12-1) – PLACE (2nd) – Trainer Chad Brown has sported a quiet confidence and a round-the-clock smile since arriving at Churchill Downs with his champion Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner – and with good cause. The chestnut colt has looked polished, poised and professional in the mornings. He posted a solid work Saturday over the surface (5 furlongs, 1:01.20). Nothing to knock about this runner. His disappointing third-place showing in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth came after a four-month winter break; taking that into account, it wasn’t a poor effort. He proved he was back on his game by beating Derby foe Flameaway in the Grade 2 Blue Grass from a wide post. The race was on the slow side throughout with a final time of 1:50.18, but it’s comparable to Noble Indy’s Louisiana Derby (1:50.28). No faults with the pedigree as he’s a son of 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Curlin, one of three progeny of the stallion in the race (Vino Rosso, Solomini). A win candidate.
7. Justify (3-1) – WINNER – It’s mind-boggling to watch the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby knowing that this strapping chestnut colt began his race career in February and has raced just three times. Such poise, professionalism and dominance combined with that level of inexperience is rare, and trainer Bob Baffert knows he has a special one on his hands. One of four sons of the late Scat Daddy in the race (Mendelssohn, Flameaway, Combatant), there are a few question marks. Unlike many of his foes, he hasn’t raced on any surface but Santa Anita and hasn’t faced many of his Derby rivals. He’s also been forwardly placed under jockey Mike Smith in all of his races; because he’s won them with such ease, he hasn’t faced much adversity or had a lot of dirt kicked in his face. A falter or missed break on Saturday could put him in an unknown and unfamiliar spot. How will he respond? The talent is there, and if he gets a perfect spot behind a leader like Promises Fulfilled, it’s game over. Win candidate.
8. Lone Sailor (50-1) – Veteran jockey James Graham gets his first Derby mount, a product of the Fair Grounds preps that has progressed quite nicely since finishing ninth in the Grade 3 Lecomte. Lots of foundation with eight starts. A late closer like My Boy Jack, he’s reminiscent of 2017 Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee, a late runner who came into the Derby without many victories but boasting several nice performances. He’s looked sharp over the Churchill Downs track. A sleeper for exotics.
9. Hofburg (20-1) – Trainer Bill Mott doesn’t bring a horse to a race unless he thinks he has a good chance to win. The Grade 1 Florida Derby runner-up has raced just three times, but the progress is evident. Obviously seven furlongs was too short, so toss that fourth-place debut. He won from a wide post in just his second start. Unlike Justify, he’s spent a lot of time behind horses with his mid-pack/closer style that looks like it will fit perfectly into this pace scenario. If he can sport the maturity and professionalism he needs on race day, he’s a candidate for the exotics.
10. My Boy Jack (30-1) – The most experienced Derby contender with 10 starts, “Throwback Jack” is the type of runner that seems to thrive on the competition. The late closer, winner of the Grade 3 Southwest and Lexington Stakes, is no doubt one-dimensional with his rallying stretch runs from the back of the pack. While this type of style hasn’t been as successful in recent Derbies, the projected pace scenario could put him squarely in the mix late in the race. Stamina shouldn’t be an issue, and the long campaign doesn’t show on the sturdy colt in the mornings. He posted a solid, eye-catching work over the Churchill Downs surface Saturday (5 furlongs, 1:03.20). He’ll need a pace meltdown – and some rain would help his cause as well – but that closing kick is dangerous. Exotics definite and a win candidate.
11. Bolt d’Oro (8-1) – The Mick Ruis trainee wasn’t able to cap off his perfect 2-year-old season with the desired win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but excuses were valid after such a wide trip from an outside post. The colt that flashed early brilliance in races such as the Grade 1 FrontRunner and the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity has shown limited progression as a 3-year-old. That was a bold, Derby-like move he made shifting from the inside and showing another gear in the stretch of the Grade 2 San Felipe. He was placed first in that race by disqualification after being beaten a head by McKinzie. But he was absolutely no match for the mighty Justify in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. That regression – and a sound beating by a Derby rival – gives cause for concern. Taking a wait-and-see approach and watching how he takes to the Churchill surface in the days leading up to the race, but hard to envision him turning the tables on Justify.
12. Enticed (30-1) – One of two sons of multiple graded stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro in the race (Bolt d’Oro is the other), the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee looms as an intriguing puzzle. The class is there, along with surface affinity as he won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in November, a race that featured Derby rivals Promises Fulfilled, Lone Sailor and Bravazo. He didn’t show much in his 3-year-old debut – a fourth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull – but he rebounded well at Aqueduct, winning the Grade 2 Gotham and finishing second to Vino Rosso in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. He has the look of a late bloomer who might not be ready for this challenge but will be a major player later this season.
13. Bravazo (50-1) – Another veteran of the group with eight starts, he turned in his best performance to date for 82-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas with a victory in the Grade 2 Risen Star. He regressed with an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, but it was a rough trip, and his race record indicates he’s capable of much better than that. However, tough to envision him making enough progress to defeat the likes of Good Magic, Justify or Magnum Moon.
14. Mendelssohn (5-1) – Every year there’s a wild card contender that baffles the Derby handicapper, and this year, this Aidan O’Brien charge is the one. What versatility, superb stamina and class he has. The Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf and runaway UAE Derby winner has won on turf, synthetic and dirt. He strolled at 1 3/16 miles in Dubai. He’s a half-brother to four-time champion Beholder and Into Mischief, sire of Derby contender Audible. What are the flaws, you ask? There aren’t many. A few off races early in his career don’t matter much now. The questions are how he will handle the shipping, the quarantine and the Churchill Downs surface; he’s also got an outstanding jockey, Ryan Moore, who doesn’t have much Derby experience. Impossible to overlook.
15. Instilled Regard (50-1) – The Grade 3 Lecomte winner hasn’t shown much in his two preps leading up to the Derby. Fourth and a long way back from Justify in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, he was also fourth in the Grade 2 Risen Star. This is a tall task; look for him later in the season with a drop in class and a cutback in distance.
16. Magnum Moon (6-1) – Four races, four outstanding performances from this colt, one of four Todd Pletcher entries. He’ll need to beat the much-ballyhooed “Curse of Apollo,” as no horse who did not race as a 2-year-old has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882. He didn’t begin his racing career until January, but he boasts a solid foundation, gradually stretching out in distance and moving up the class ladder. He’s also won at three different tracks, proving he can handle various types of surfaces. He led the field with a pedestrian pace and extended in the stretch of his four-length Arkansas Derby win but lugged out late in the race. That’s a quirk he’s shown before. It appears to be related to being alone on the lead rather than to fatigue. He’s shied at objects a few times in the mornings during pre-Derby training at Churchill Downs, but nothing drastic. With the spectacle that is the Derby looming, Pletcher said he’s not concerned about the colt’s tendency. “I really think if he has a target, or if he has horses around him, that it will not be an issue. . . It tends to happen when he gets by himself and he’s just looking around and taking everything in.” Also important to note that the colt has been forwardly placed either on the lead or in a close stalking spot in all four wins; how might he handle getting shuffled back in a field of 20? Still, a top candidate for the win. He’s a son of Malibu Moon, sire of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
17. Solomini (30-1) – The “other” Baffert is always a factor in a Derby equation. But the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up has regressed as a 3-year-old against tough competition at Oaklawn Park – mainly Magnum Moon, who’s beaten him twice. He also has a recurring habit of not changing leads, which seems to affect his momentum. One to watch on the track, but a lack of forward progression this season is a drawback.
18. Vino Rosso (12-1) – The long-striding Grade 2 Wood Memorial winner was perfect in two starts as a 2-year-old, but his 3-year-old season began with disappointment. It seemed he didn’t start his engine until late stretch in his third-place finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, and Pletcher added blinkers for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, but the colt didn’t respond, posting a one-paced fourth-place effort. Surmising the Tampa Bay surface was to blame, Pletcher sent him to Aqueduct and the chestnut flourished. His run from mid-pack to beat Enticed by three lengths in the Wood was his best performance yet. This is a colt that has the look of a true classic distance runner; if not here, look for him in the Belmont.
19. Noble Indy (30-1) – The off-the-radar Pletcher trainee didn’t become a topic of Derby conversation until his gutsy win over Lone Sailor and the fast-closing My Boy Jack in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. That performance was a stark improvement over his third-place showing in the Grade 2 Risen Star. The difference was likely the addition of blinkers that made this speed horse, who prefers to be on or near the lead, more focused. Sporting those blinkers, he posted one of the best pre-Derby works at Churchill on Saturday (5 furlongs, 1:01.60). The question remains where jockey Florent Geroux places him in what could be a lively pace setup. Consider for exotics.
20. Combatant (50-1) – The Steve Asmussen trainee’s lone victory was a maiden win in October over the Churchill Downs surface. He’s found himself at the back of the pack in the Oaklawn preps, and although he’s made up ground in those races, he wasn’t able to catch up to Derby foes Magnum Moon or Solomini. Siding with others.